Who Won The Week? Shabazz Napier, Memphis and Villanova…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 6th, 2013

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill. 

WINNER: Shabazz Napier

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America's top player, and being Who Won The Week's top winner.

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America’s top player, and being Who Won The Week’s top winner.

The stellar UConn guard and his team only played one game last week, matching up against a ranked Florida squad. And Napier stole the show. Including the buzzer-beating free-throw-line fadeaway for the 65-64 win, the junior guard finished Monday night’s game in Storrs with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and a game-high three steals. It’s impressive to think that Kemba Walker’s backup backcourt mate during the Huskies’ 2011 title run has a solid case in being judged the best player in college basketball this season. If he keeps playing at his current level – the senior guard averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game – he could solidify that claim by the end of the year. Of course, some more luck coming his team’s way couldn’t hurt; including Monday’s game, three of the Huskies’ eight wins have come by a single point.

LOSER: Florida

Already down the services of Eli Carter for the year and freshman five-star recruit Kasey Hill for a couple more weeks due to injuries, Billy Donovan’s Gators could ill afford to lose another point guard. Bad news in Gainesville: Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin is expected to be out indefinitely after sustaining a similar injury with three minutes left in Florida’s aforementioned loss to UConn. Wilbekin, who already missed five regular-season games due to an offseason suspension, was tough enough to replace as the starting point guard when Florida’s second and third options at the position were healthy. Instead, the Gators face an onslaught of Kansas and Memphis back-to-back on the next two Tuesdays.

To give credit where it’s due, the 67-66 home win over rival Florida State last week is nothing to sneeze at, though Wilbekin did have seven points, eight assists and five steals in that match-up.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Bad and the Ugly…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.

Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

The Bad

  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
  • Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.

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ESPN Insider Projects AAC Among Nation’s Top Conferences

Posted by CD Bradley on October 25th, 2013

The American compares favorably to the best conferences in the country in ESPN Insider‘s 351-team projections that were released Friday. Led, unsurprisingly, by Louisville at #2, the American placed three teams in the top 25, and three more in the top 100. The team projections are based on projections of each player, based on past production by both the players and the teams as a whole, as explained by Dan Hanner. “The model predicted the tempo free stats of every D1 player, projected the lineup for every D1 team, and then added up the player stats to get a projection for every D1 team,” Hanner wrote. (ESPN Insider absorbed most of the writers of the late, lamented College Basketball Prospectus, which produced similar #1-#351 rankings in its annual book in years past.)

Congrats to Fran Dunphy on His 400th Victory

Fran Dunphy’s inexperienced Temple team presents a major challenge to the coach this year.

After modeling predictions for each player on each team (a detailed, somewhat technical explanation of that process can be found here), Hanner ran 10,000 computer simulations of the season, a new aspect of this year’s version of the rankings which provides a best and worst case scenario for each team. “There are a number of consequences to adding a simulation to the model,” Hanner wrote. “First, the simulation approach gives an advantage to teams with positional flexibility. For example, Louisville has two players, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, who will likely compete to be the team’s starting point guard. Both players project as good, but not elite college point guards. But when you simulate the lineup, and realize that the better of the two players will start, suddenly the expectation is even higher. The winner of the competition is going to have a higher expectation than either player individually.”

Accordingly, Louisville is ranked second (only the uncertainty surrounding Chane Behanan’s suspension dropped them below Kentucky for the top spot), with a best case as the top team in the county and a worst case of 12th. Memphis checks in at 15th (best case sixth, worst case 26th), while UConn is 25th (12th/42nd).

The rest of the American ranks:

  • Cincinnati: #59 (23/97)
  • Central Florida: #96 (60/138)
  • Rutgers: #100 (58/150)
  • SMU: #105 (70/134)
  • South Florida: #110 (63/151)
  • Temple: #129 (67/209; the wide variance, Hanner explains, is due to the lack of returning production: “Fran Dunphy has worked miracles before, but he has never had a team this inexperienced at Temple.”)
  • Houston: #158 (96/209)

The American joins the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big East as the only conferences with each team in the top half of the overall rankings, a claim the SEC, Big 12, MW, A-10 or any other conference cannot make. The full rankings, with commentary, can be found here; conference predictions can be found here.

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Rushed Reaction: #13 Ohio 62, #12 South Florida 56

Posted by David Changas on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Ohio’s Guards were Fantastic.  It’s not easy to win a third round game in the NCAA Tournament when you get 11 points from your frontcourt. But that’s exactly what Ohio did tonight, thanks to its stellar backcourt and the outstanding performances of D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. The pair combined for 40 of Ohio’s 62 points and got nine more from the team’s third starting guard, Nick Kellogg.  South Florida did a much better job than Michigan of disrupting the flow of Ohio’s offense, especially in taking Ohio forward Ivo Baltic and the rest of the Bobcat frontcourt out of the game, but the Bobcats shot 50% from the floor in the second half and were able to get more open looks. The Bobcat backcourt was simply too good on this night, and Cooper and Offutt are the biggest reason Ohio is moving on to its first Sweet Sixteen since 1964.
  2. Five-point Possessions turn Game.  It’s not often that you see a five-point possession in a game.  It’s downright rare that you see two in one half, but Ohio had two such possessions in the second half and they were game changers.  The first came with 16:03 remaining when Victor Rudd, Jr., was called for an intentional foul on Walter Offutt after he grabbed Offutt on the perimeter. Offutt made both free throws and then knocked down a three from the left corner to tie the game.  Then, with 9:23 left, Jawanza Poland was on the receiving end of a beautiful alley-oop pass from Collins and was called for hanging on the rim by referee Tony Greene.  It was a questionable call, and it took away South Florida’s momentum. The Bulls had taken a 42-37 lead on the play, but Kellogg knocked down both technical free throws and made a three to tie it back up. The play sparked a 19-6 run that gave Ohio a lead it would not relinquish.
  3. South Florida’s Offense not Enough.  The Bulls play ugly and get the job done on the defensive end. Offensively, though, they simply weren’t worthy of a Sweet Sixteen run, especially on the perimeter. For the game, South Florida went 2-15 from three-point range, and many of those misses came on good looks.  Had they been able to knock down a few more of those shots, the early second half lead may have been too much for Ohio to overcome. Instead, their inability to make enough shots ended the Bulls’ season.

Star of the Game Walter Offutt, Ohio. The Bobcat junior, who spent his first two years at Ohio State, showed why he was a high-major recruit in this game, going 7-9 from the field and scoring 21 points.  He hit all four of his three-point attempts. This honor easily could have gone to Cooper, who had 19 points and seven assists, but on this night, Offutt provided the offensive spark that carried the Bobcats to St. Louis.

Quotable.  “I don’t ever want to blame one play, but it certainly changed the momentum. All season long, we didn’t let one play bother us, but we did here. The response was not normal for us.” – South Florida Coach Stan Heath, on Poland’s technical.

Sights and Sounds.  St. Patrick’s Day came a day late, as green was everywhere in this one.  Even the NCAA got into the act, assigning referee Tony Greene to the game.

Wildcard. In the Twitter era, news travels fast. At halftime, the media room was abuzz with word of North Carolina guard Kendall Marshall‘s fractured wrist, and the general consensus was that the Tar Heels’ chances of winning the national title are over if Marshall can’t play or perform at his usual high level.

What’s Next?  Ohio has a huge challenge ahead, as it gets to take on the region’s top seed, North Carolina.  Of course, no one knows what the Tar Heels will look like at this point, given Marshall’s injury. Still, despite the fact that Ohio’s backcourt is superb, the Bobcats’ lack of size will be a big problem against the huge North Carolina front line.

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Rushed Reaction: #12 South Florida 58 #5 Temple 44

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. A Game of Runs.  In the first half, South Florida went nearly 11 minutes without scoring. The Bulls finished the half 3-of-27 from the floor, but were amazingly down by only four points at the break.  In the second half, a different South Florida team showed up.  The Bulls hit 10 of their first 14 shots, including four of their first five from three.  After trailing 19-8 with 6:34 in the first half, South Florida went on a 33-10 run that extended to the midway point of the second half.  The turnaround was stunning, as it didn’t appear that South Florida would be able to do anything offensively after its woeful first half.  Whatever Bulls Coach Stan Heath said to his team during the intermission got them going, and now one of the last four teams in the Big Dance has a chance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Collins and Rudd Lead the Way. Anthony Collins, South Florida’s freshman point guard, was outstanding in steadying the Bulls in the first half and leading their attack in the second.  He finished with 17 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Sophomore forward Victor Rudd, Jr., hit several key shots in the second half, and went 4-6 from three-point range.  Collins and Rudd were the key to South Florida’s quick spurt at the beginning of the second half, and the Bulls never relinquished the lead after taking it on a Shaun Noriega three with 16:55 remaining.
  3. Good Defense beats Good Offense. This game was a contrast in styles.  On the season, Temple shot 47% from the field and averaged 76 points per game.  According to kenpom.com, the Owls were the nation’s 22nd most efficient offensive team.  On the other hand, South Florida is seventh in the nation in scoring defense (56.8 points per game) and 14th in field goal percentage defense (opponents shot 38.7% on the year). On this night, the Bulls won the battle of these contrasting styles, as South Florida held the Owls to 35.7% shooting and 44 points.  Temple simply could not get into any offensive flow in the game, and the Bulls deserve all the credit for that.

Star of the Game Anthony Collins, USF.  The freshman point guard who had more than three times as many assists as any other Bull, was the steadying influence on this team on this night, turning the ball over only once.

Quotable. ”I think they’re the best defensive team we played against all year.  They’re long and athletic. They do a great job switching, as well as the guards keeping their guys in front.” – Temple’s Ramone Moore, on South Florida’s defense

Sights and Sounds.  A lackluster first half led to a crowd that had no life in the first 20 minutes.  After the break, the South Florida crowd, which had seemed non-existent, came to life when the Bulls rallied.  The game also presented a contrast in styles between the coaches.  Temple’s Fran Dunphy and South Florida’s Stan Heath do things differently.  Heath is animated and argues with officials throughout the game.  Dunphy, though intense, does not let his emotions show like his counterpart.

Wildcard.  This game was a battle of future Big East opponents.  Earlier this month, the league extended an invitation to Temple, and it will join in basketball beginning in the 2013-14 season.

What’s Next?  South Florida will take on 13th-seeded Ohio on Sunday.  The Bulls were one of the last four at-large teams to make the field, and many thought they should not have been in the field at all.  Now, the Bulls will wear their home uniforms as the higher seed, and with their defense, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen is a realistic possibility.

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